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Immigrant Workers and Meanings of Work

Communicating Life and Career Transitions

Edited By Suchitra Shenoy-Packer and Elena Gabor

This first-of-its-kind book uniquely captures the meanings of work expressed by immigrants. Their stories – from work histories to life transitions and professional journeys – are conscientiously and rigorously mapped by the academic insights of communication scholars, many of whom are immigrants themselves.
Immigrant workers’ narratives of work and its nuances in an adopted country offer many hitherto muted, invisible, and/or purposely silenced perspectives. A variety of new and familiar terms – concepts such as career inheritance, aphorisms, cultural adaptation, acculturation, and cultural distance – and culture-specific terms such as ganas and consejos are discussed alongside the inherent struggles of identity construction across borders.
While the contributors represent diversity in co-cultural affiliations, national origin, and immigration experiences encountered both personally and professionally, the stories of immigrants represent an even larger number of countries and cultures.
This volume compels the academic community to acknowledge immigrants as workers whose voices matter and whose sense and processes of meaning-making is nuanced, complex, and multi-dimensional. Immigrant workers’ voices can contribute significantly to the rich growth of research in organizational communication, meanings of work, career studies, cross-cultural management, psychology of work, and work and society.

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Chapter Ten: In Search of My Niche: International Teaching Assistants’ Negotiation with Meanings of Work (Somava Pande and Pamela J. Bettis)

Extract

c h a p t e r t e n On a sunny December afternoon as I showed my mother around my U.S. univer- sity campus, I remember how proudly she talked about her ethnic clothes with the people who stopped to admire her saree. In writing this chapter, I have reflected on this memory and wondered how it came to be that I only wear non-Indian “Western” clothes now. For 25 years, like my mother, I too dressed in colorful eth- nic clothes that are now packed away in a dusty closet. How did I lose that integral part of myself that embraced an ethnic-clothes-wearing identity? Reflecting upon this question, I realized that my conscious decision to wear nonethnic clothes can be traced back to my experience during my graduate orientation week at my U.S. university. In our teaching assistants’ training sessions, the presenters repeatedly mentioned the importance of a dress code in class, specifically emphasizing the norm of formal shirts and slacks. As an international graduate student aspiring to get a foothold in the U.S. culture, I consciously began to wear clothes normative to this culture. I begin this chapter with this anecdote to exemplify my continuing negotiation to construct meanings of work in this new country as an international teaching assistant (ITA). In the 2014–15 academic year, international students’ admissions rates increased by 15% across graduate and undergraduate programs in U.S. universities (Mitchell, 2014). Many of these international graduate students are employed as teaching assistants (TAs)...

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